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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

maybe it’s men who “just aren’t funny”…

…sexy Star Wars lacks imagination; how not to depict girl geeks; and more.

Yup, it’s The Week in Women, my regular column over at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Enjoy.



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  • Left_Wing_Fox

    Interesting juxtaposition there: I actually just picked up Carrie Fisher’s “Wishful Drinking” On audiobook recently. Speaking of funny women and Star Wars sexual fantasies. (And boy did she have some choice things to say about the fetishization of her image)

  • Paul

    The thing is, the women I know are usually only funny when they are not afraid of offending somebody. Thus, in the suck up world of fragile egos that is backstage Hollywood, TV, and maybe the world, I find myself flashbacking to a Star Trek NG episode where an alien device lets Picard hear everything Crusher is thinking and he’s astonished at how often she has sarcastic thoughts she doesn’t tell anyone about.

    It’s a sexist double standard, to be sure, that men like men who are funny but are wary of women who are funny, because that’s not what they want from women. I have to admit that I didn’t ask out a couple of women because while I laughed my ass off at their descriptions of ex-b/fs, I didn’t want that rapier wit ever aimed at me. Being just friends seemed like a really good idea.

  • doa766

    “there are no female counterparts to Seth Rogen and Shia LaBeouf onscreen”

    what about Tina Fey and Ellen Page?

  • @Paul, women are pretty much taught from birth that they are not funny and that they also must be nice and accomadating, especially in male company. I love that episode of TNG, btw.

    I get called “funny” in real life quite frequently, mostly by women (two said it this past week). But I’ve only had one man really tell me I was hilarious: my husband. None of my male friends or family members cop to the fact that I can be as funny as my very funny brother.

    RE: girl geeks. How can they NOT see that All About Steve 1) mocks her and 2) the movie is not in her POV. It’s not her story. The movies about male geeks may make fun of them somewhat, but they are also set up to be sympathetic. And they are the protragonists: the struggles and lessons are theirs.

    This has been a thorn in my side since girlhood, getting Girl Geek so very wrong. The geeky girls were either way too “hot”, or they were reviled.

    Naploleon Dynamite’s Deb is probably the best, most authentic girl geek representation I can remember in recent years.

  • cooldude

    MaryAnn, I know this is unrelated but I wouldn’t know where else to put it anyways: please hurry up with the (500) Days of Summer review, I’ve been waiting to see your take on the film, because I loved it..I just wanted to see exactly what you thought of it, so hurry! :]

  • Helper cat

    “Last night is a man’s world. There are no women hosts on late night TV” I think you mean Late (I just started reading and if it were me, I’d want to know so I could change it! Please don’t publish comment).

  • Brian

    @Accounting Ninja: If girls and women are taught that they are not supposed to be funny, I am very glad that the imprint didn’t take on most of the women I hang out with. Makes conversation a whole lot more interesting.

  • It didn’t really take on me either, and lots of other gals. It’s just a lot harder for us to be seen as and encouraged as Funny. I still recall the time my father hissed at me, after I’d made a sardonic quip in mixed company, that if I thought I was being funny, I WAS NOT. He occasionally reminded me that I wasn’t funny periodically after that, in case I got any ideas.;) I’m not saying what I said was funny (I don’t remember what it was). But my brother and guy friends were just as apt to make sly jokes and sassy teenage comments and they weren’t shot down like that. Yes, I noticed.

    But let’s here it for funny women! Yay!

  • There are no female counterparts to Seth Rogen and Shia LaBeouf onscreen.

    *Cough*Square Pegs*Cough*

    Okay, that wasn’t on the big screen, but it was on the small screen, so it still counts, right?

  • If girls and women are taught that they are not supposed to be funny, I am very glad that the imprint didn’t take on most of the women I hang out with. Makes conversation a whole lot more interesting.

    Yeah, yeah.,yeah.

    Women aren’t funny.

    Yet another nugget of wisdom brought to you by the type of people who believe:

    A. Men who have too many female friends have something wrong with them.

    B. Men who have too many male friends have something wrong with them.

    C. Men who have too many friends, period, have something wrong with them.

    D. Men who don’t have any friends at all have something wrong with them.

    Whatever. I suppose that why Ellen DeGeneres is so successful right now and Jay Leno has been having such bad luck–because she’s a woman and women aren’t really funny…

  • Paul

    Apparently when George Burns and Gracie Allen first started out, she had the straight lines and he had the funny ones. Then on stage, without warning him, she switched on him, people laughed louder, and so he went with it. The rest is history.

    Looking back, it’s occurring to me that the majority of funny women from my childhood TV memories were written as mean: Roseanne, Darlene from the same show when she grew up, Carla and Lilith from Cheers, ah, oh, I’m running out. The sympathetic women from comedy shows were more likely to be the straight liners for the funny men: Night Court, Family Ties, Cosby Show, Homewreaking (opps, I meant Home Improvement). But if the show became more popular, sometimes the women were given better lines, especially on Home Improvement.

  • LaSargenta

    Maude Maude Maude Maude.

    Oops. I mean Bea Arthur. Was she mean? I didn’t think so. I did think that she didn’t take an shit, though. And she was sure funny.

    Hmm…LaWanda Page? I seem to recall that it was Redd Foxx who had the really nasty lines.

    Moms Mabley? She was a riot! I found this on the web:

    Subject: Moms Mabley on Merv Griffin’s Afternoon Talk Show Robert Goulet had sung and was sitting with Merv. Moms did her standup after which Merv motioned her to come over and join them. Instead of sitting on the sofa, she plopped herself down in Goulet’s lap and kissed him on the cheek. As the audience laughed, Griffin said “Is that the kind of man you like, Moms? Young and cleancut?” Moms replied “Dahlin’. Moms don’t care if they cut or not just so they clean”

  • P.

    To make a few crazy, blanket generalizations, women in the West are taught to Adapt to the World, whereas men in the West are taught to Make the World Adapt to Them.

    This is why Men Are Taught to Make Art, because what is art if not a colossal inability to adapt to the world? A sensible person (a woman) is taught to walk into a forest and say “I need to learn to adapt to this environment.” A Man is taught to walk into a forest and say “I need to build Notre Dame Cathedral right here.”

    A society needs both paradigms to function well. The paradigms have been assigned at birth for thousands (millions?) of years based on what was handy for people living in caves. The woman in the cave, recovering from / preparing for pregnancy watches Ellen. The man comes home after a day killing shit and watches Conan make jokes about “man, it took me so long to run down this gazelle!”

    The ability to Adapt allows widows to live for 20, 30, 40 years after their husbands. Most widowers, because of a failure to adapt, die within 5.

    Another blanket generalization is that this is why Movies Are About Men and Novels Are About Women (or Men Acting Girly, with Lots of Feelings). Because movies are about visuals and action, it is easier to make a movie about someone who forces his environment to conform to him. It is easier to write a novel about someone’s reactions to and opinions about her environment. There are, of course, great action novels (“No Country”) and great contemplative films (“Into Great Silence”), but those are harder to make well.

    People are lazy and change slow.

  • P.

    Oh yeah, and my point was that humor can be considered a sarcastic non-adaptation to the environment, and is therefore taught as being Within the Sphere of Men.

  • Paul

    When I think of an action movie, it is usually the villains trying to make the environment adapt to them and the hero trying to stop them. So I sorta agree, but I’m not sure the moral implication is quite what you think it is, P.

    And sometimes I think the movies have it wrong, that the guys adapting the environment are sometimes right, but mad scientists are just too much fun for the jock hero to kill.

  • MaryAnn

    *Cough*Square Pegs*Cough*

    Almost 30 years ago? A show that lasted only a single year?

  • “…funny women from my childhood TV memories were written as mean: Roseanne, Darlene from the same show when she grew up, Carla and Lilith from Cheers, ah, oh, I’m running out. The sympathetic women from comedy shows were more likely to be the straight liners for the funny men: Night Court, Family Ties, Cosby Show, Homewreaking (opps, I meant Home Improvement).”

    someone also mentioned Maude, the Cosby Show and Freaks & Geeks…

    the women on those shows were comedic actresses — and very funny — but the shows were written by men and their characters were how men perceive women or want to perceive them.

    the original SNL had some funny women who came out of Second City (which had some *very* funny women) where they had to do a lot of their own writing and improv… that was original humor… Gilda Radner (Roseanne Rosannadana), Jane Curtin’s news reader and Conehead, Andrea Martin’s Edith Prickley — these women did original humor. where are they now? those who are living are showing up as small character parts in stupid movies… whereas men are the *stars* of even the stupid comedy movies.

    when women did and/or do their own comedy, it stil usually only acceptable to mock themselves, their weight, their housekeeping skills, their mother in laws — very little is done with social commentary or even bizarro humor (ala stephen wright, let’s say).

    however, there may be hope for women doing real comedy work. there is a Women in Comedy Festival this March:

    http://www.womenincomedyfestival.com/html/about.php

    it looks awesome.

  • Almost 30 years ago? A show that lasted only a single year?

    D’oh!

    Well, I’d like to think that a lot of one-year shows like Firefly and Freaks and Geeks go on to become more influential in the long run, but, alas, in SP‘s case, you have a point.

  • Brian

    I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned Carol Burnett yet. Her show reigned on TV for a decade – a show built around a woman who hosted, starred in, and wrote significant portions of it. If it could happen in the ’70s, why won’t anyone take a chance on it happening now?

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